Right from the start, cacao butter is a bit of a misnomer. There’s actually no butter (or dairy) at all in cacao butter, nor is cacao butter even particularly buttery in flavor. Rather, cacao butter is technically an oil. Traditionally, when making chocolate, peeled cacao beans are crushed into nibs, and then pressed and ground with very high pressure. This process creates two products: the dry, brown, powdery cacao “cake,” otherwise known as cacao powder, and the pure cacao fat, otherwise known as cacao butter. Cacao butter looks like a golden-hued oil when melted at low heat, and hardens into a cream-colored solid when cooled to room temperature. Cacao butter is the reason why your chocolate bars taste so smooth, and why the chocolate chips in cookies are hard to the touch but melt in your mouth.
Chocolate makers will recombine the cacao powder and cacao butter along with other ingredients to better control flavor and generate a more velvety texture in their chocolates, and you can learn how to do this yourself in our popular cooking course, Revitalizing Raw Chocolate. But to before putting cacao butter to use, it’s important to fully understand its three main properties:
1. Cacao butter has very little chocolate flavor.
Interestingly, cacao butter’s chocolaty aroma is greater than the flavor it actually provides, which is only a hint. It serves well as a background flavor, and mostly adds richness to recipes.
2. Cacao butter melts very easily over low heat.
Cacao butter is too hard to use in its solid state, and must be melted before being added to a recipe to incorporate it. Luckily, this is an easy process! First, use a chef’s knife to finely chop your cacao butter. Next, if you're making raw chocolate, use a double boiler method to melt the cacao. Or, if you're just using the cacao butter for another recipe, like pudding or truffles, simply add it to a small sauté pan over the lowest heat. The cacao butter will fully melt within just a couple minutes, and you should remove it as soon as the last bits of white disappear to avoid burning (cacao butter has a low smoke point). For best results, use a silicone spatula to effectively gather every last drop of the cacao butter from the pan to avoid wasting any!
3. Cacao butter will always return to its hardened state when cooled.
Just because you’ve melted the cacao butter, doesn’t mean it will stay that way! Cacao butter will slowly re-solidify at room temperature, and can be more rapidly hardened in the refrigerator or freezer. (In fact, you can transform the cacao butter from liquid to solid form back and forth indefinitely.) Because of this hardening property, melted cacao butter needs to be thoroughly incorporated into recipes to avoid forming solid chunks or veins of hard fat, and should be added to room temperature or warmer ingredients.
Now for the fun part … how to use cacao butter! Cacao butter is absolutely fantastic in all kinds of desserts, whether they are chocolate-themed or not. Use melted cacao butter in the place of other kinds of oil, margarine, or dairy butter in recipes like cookies, brownies, and cakes for a subtle chocolate innuendo (for best results, use a partial substitute only, keeping in mind that cacao butter will continue to firm up the recipe a little after cooking). You can also use cacao butter in candies and confections like truffles, fudge, and brittle with great success … and of course make epic homemade chocolate too, by combining cacao powder with the butter and a little sweetener. Melted cacao butter can also be used in small amounts to blend into frostings, sweet sauces, and even warm drinks, such as a creamy latte. And if all this talk is just too sweet for your style, keep in mind that cacao butter makes an absolutely incredible skin hydrator, which can be rubbed topically directly into the skin.
Cacao butter is an exquisite ingredient through and through. It’s easy to see why this unique ingredient belongs with all your favorite superfoods!